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Welcome to The Feminist Vegan, where I write about wellness, mental health, and personal growth, all through the lens of social justice.

50 Things I've Learned in 50 Days of Solo Travel

50 Things I've Learned in 50 Days of Solo Travel

After traveling around from city to city for the last month and a half, I have come back to Spain. Now that I'm moving more slowly, I have a bit more psychological space to reflect on what I've learned after traveling solo for the first time. The most important thing I can say before starting this list is that if you're considering solo travel, do it. Even if you're not considering traveling alone, maybe give it a second thought. It's been one of the best, most fulfilling experiences of my life so far. 

Now, let's get into it. Here are fifty lessons I've learned from the last (exactly) fifty days I've been traveling.

  1. Getting on the plane is the scariest part.
  2. International flights serve free beer and wine, and there is no shame in having a glass to calm your nerves.
  3. Depending on where you're going, where you live, and where you're from, it may be cheaper to fly to your dream destination than to fly back home (as it was for me).
  4. It should be a universally accepted truth that the person in the middle seat gets both their armrests...
  5. But people violate this code of conduct all the time. Don't be that person (and book an aisle or a window because the middle is the worst).
  6. The first few days in a new place are usually the toughest.
  7.  If you're really not feeling good, it probably has something to do with being (a) underslept (b) underfed or (c) hungover. 
  8. Feelings are temporary and pass pretty quickly. Remember this especially if you feel lonely. 
  9. You'll feel lonely way less often than you think. Probably almost never.
  10. It is always worth the extra effort to meet new people and make friends, even if you're tired or don't feel like it.
  11. There is a time and a place for rest, however, so don't be afraid to take a day to just chill and be lazy.
  12. Hostels are hands-down the best places to stay to meet people.
  13. You will make friends in hostels, as long as you're not That Person who puts everything in crinkly plastic bags and makes a lot of noise at inconvenient hours. Then you will be temporarily shunned.
  14. Don't use guidebooks for hostels - use the website Hostelworld. It's way more comprehensive and offers real-time ratings.
  15. Check to see if the hostel offers any discounts if you book through their website; this saved me in Rome when I had to change my hostel reservation from six nights to two, and they didn't charge me because I booked through their website.
  16. Make sure you check whether your hostel has a kitchen and/or allows outside food, unless you want to end up picnicking outside with numb hands in the wintertime (ahem, not that I'm speaking from experience). 
  17. If you're on a budget, use the hostel kitchen. Often.
  18. Local grocery shopping can be a cultural experience if you treat it like one.
  19. Go to regular grocery stores and stay away from specialty stores - they're either expensive, tourist traps, or both. It also allows you to get to know the daily rhythm of a city or town.
  20. Always carry a water bottle, unless you want to kill both the planet and your wallet at the same time.
  21. Similarly, learn the phrase for "tap water" in the local language.
  22. If you're vegan, vegetarian, or have any other dietary restriction, learn both the words for that (sono vegana in Italian, for example) as well as the words for what you can't/won't eat (sin huevo/lácteos, etc. in Spanish). 
  23. Also, vegan and vegetarians need to download Happy Cow, an app that allows you to search for vegan, vegetarian, and veg-option stores and restaurants. No, it's not free. Yes, it's absolutely worth it. It works in every country in the world and has saved my vegan ass more times than I can count.
  24. Related to the last tip, always ask and always read the label if you're not sure about a dish. Unless you're familiar with the local cuisine, chances are there will be some unexpected ingredients. 
  25. If you get sick, don't be afraid to talk to a local pharmacist! In my experience, European pharmacies tend to be much more interactive than in the US, and have helped me avoid a trip to the doctor's office a couple of times.
  26. That said, if you're traveling for any extended period of time (I'd say three weeks or more) it's worth it to get travel insurance for medical mishaps or other emergencies. I personally use World Nomads, but there are a lot of options out there.
  27. If you do get sick (which I have a couple of times), be as gentle with yourself as possible. Don't feel bad about staying in to binge Netflix instead of sightseeing!
  28. Data, data, data. I know it can be pricey, but signing up for international data or getting a SIM card is super helpful for solo travelers. I usually didn't need it, but there were a few times when I got lost and would have risked getting stuck somewhere on my own. 
  29. This runs counter to what I used to do while traveling, but I actually haven't really used a guidebook at all since starting this trip. I'm a huge Rick Steves nerd and his top recommendation is to use a guidebook, but I've found that for young, budget, and solo travelers, even good ones aren't that relevant.
  30. The best recommendations - and how I decided to sightsee instead of using a guidebook - come from locals and the staff at the hostel where you're staying.
  31. The best way to get to know a city, though, is by walking through it. Walking the streets will provide the most interesting and memorable experiences, though of course major sights are nice too.
  32. Get lost. It's good for you. You'll be fine. Use Google Maps for emergencies (see #27).
  33. But also make sure you know the address where you're staying, have the country's emergency number in your phone, and have a bit of cash on you in case you end up in a jam.
  34. Lay out what you think you'll need, and then pack half of that. Seriously. I was a super light packer already, and I still ended up leaving a few items in hostel rooms because I wasn't using them and they were weighing me down.
  35. If you're able to carry a backpack, use one instead of a rolling suitcase. Rolling suitcases are loud, inconvenient, and hated by all locals. (My Dutch friends told me Amsterdam even tried to outlaw them because they made so much noise on the cobblestones!)
  36. You don't need a massive hiking backpack unless you're planning on camping or trekking. I use the Tortuga backpack, which was designed for long-term city travel and has been amazing. Travel YouTuber Amanda Round the Globe uses this one too!
  37. Bring your own lock. Every hostel I've been to has had a locker or cabinet for each bed, and you'll want to lock up your stuff when you're not in the room. I haven't had anything stolen, but I've also always locked up my backpack, so...
  38. Go places alone. Sit at the bar. Talk to people. It can feel scary at first, but this is one of the best ways to meet people.
  39. When going places alone, a huge smile and "hi" in the local language goes a long way.
  40. Check out Facebook for events near you. Two of the best experiences I had in Madrid came out of Facebook events that I attended on a whim.
  41. Embrace the weird, the funky, and the alternative scene. This is where the locals are.
  42. Unless your gut is telling you no, say yes. Say yes to invitations, say yes to new experiences, and say yes to spontaneous adventures.
  43. But also absolutely listen to your gut...
  44. Unless you, like me, live with an anxiety disorder. If that's the case, you may need to push yourself into extremely uncomfortable territory. Generally, though, I've been able to distinguish between my true instincts and the false fears bred by my anxiety.
  45. In order to fully embrace the power of saying yes, don't plan ahead too much.
  46. No, really, don't plan ahead. Unless you're going to a particular destination at a time when it's really crowded (like Venice during Carnevale) or trying to book a top-rated hostel on a weekend, don't book more than one destination in advance. Otherwise you'll end up (like I did) having to rush out of a place before you're ready. 
  47. If you love a place, stay. If you don't, go. It really is that simple when you're solo traveling, which is amazing.
  48. Bring ear plugs and an eye mask. Get enough sleep.
  49. Record your experiences in some way, whether through journaling or blogging or vlogging or photos. Especially if you're traveling solo and won't have another person to reminisce with later, you'll treasure these memories.
  50. Go. Just go.
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